Harpy or Siren?

In Greek mythology, a harpy was one of the winged spirits best known for constantly stealing all food from Phineas. The literal meaning of the word seems to be "that which snatches" as it comes from the ancient Greek word harpazein, which means "to snatch". But this was not in Greece, and these Cave Demons did not snatch food from these men, but actually used the men as the food. So what could they have been? Maybe a Siren? In Greek mythology, the Sirens were dangerous creatures, portrayed as seductresses who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island. Roman poets placed them on an island called Sirenum scopuli. Whatever it was, that was in the cave in Afghanistan, the soldier said it looked like a woman. But again this attack was not in Greece.

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Harpies, sisters of Iris, daughters of
Thaumas and Electra.

Phineus, a king of Thrace, had the gift of prophecy, and loved to tell of the prophecies he saw. Zeus, angry that Phineas revealed too much, punished him by taking away his sight and banished him to an island with a cabinet full of food which he could never eat. The harpies would arrive and take the food out of his hands before he could satisfy his hunger, then they would contaminate the remains of his food. This continued until Jason and the Argonauts arrived. The Boreads, sons of Boreas, the North Wind, who also could fly, managed to drive off the harpies, and without killing any of them, following the request from Iris, who promised that Phineas would not be bothered by the harpies again, and "the dogs of great Zeus" returned to their "cave in Minoan Crete". Thankful for their help, Phineas told the Argonauts how to pass the Symplegades.

In this form they were agents of punishment who abducted people and tortured them on their way to Tartarus. They were vicious, cruel and violent. They lived on the islands of the Strophades. They were usually seen as the personifications of the destructive nature of wind. The harpies in this tradition, now thought of as three sisters instead of the original two, were: Aello ("storm swift"), Celaeno ("the dark") also known as Podarge ("fleet-foot") and Ocypete ("the swift wing").

Aeneas encountered harpies on the Strophades as they repeatedly made off with the feast the Trojans were setting. Celaeno cursed them, saying the Trojans will be so hungry they will eat their tables before they reach the end of their journey. The Trojans fled in fear.

Sirens of Greek mythology

Sirens combine women and birds in various ways. In early Greek art Sirens were represented as birds with large women's heads, bird feathers and scaly feet. Later, they were represented as female figures with the legs of birds, with or without wings, playing a variety of musical instruments, especially harps. The tenth century Byzantine encyclopedia Suda says that from their chests up Sirens had the form of sparrows, below they were women, or, alternatively, that they were little birds with women's faces. Birds were chosen because of their beautiful voices. Later Sirens were sometimes depicted as beautiful women, whose bodies, not only their voices, are seductive.

The first century Roman historian Pliny the Elder discounted Sirens as pure fable, "although Dinon, the father of Clearchus, a celebrated writer, asserts that they exist in India, and that they charm men by their song, and, having first lulled them to sleep, tear them to pieces." In his notebooks Leonardo da Vinci wrote of the Siren, "The siren sings so sweetly that she lulls the mariners to sleep; then she climbs upon the ships and kills the sleeping mariners."

In 1917, Franz Kafka wrote in The Silence of the Sirens, "Now the Sirens have a still more fatal weapon than their song, namely their silence. And though admittedly such a thing never happened, it is still conceivable that someone might possibly have escaped from their singing; but from their silence certainly never."

The so-called "Siren of Canosa" accompanied the deceased among grave goods in a burial and seems to have some psychopomp characteristics, guiding the dead on the after-life journey. The cast terracotta figure bears traces of its original white pigment. The woman bears the feet and the wings and tail of a bird. It is conserved in the National Archaeological Museum of Spain, in Madrid.

Harpy? maybe, but definatly not a Siren, after all the siren is said to be a winged women with feathers, and sings so sweetly that she lulls the mariners to sleep. Next lets take a look at the Bismark flying fox Perhaps one was transported to Afghanistan.

Afghanistan Bat Attack  |  Bismark Flying Fox